Every two years, 12 countries send their national soccer teams to compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament played among North American, Central American and Caribbean nations. Yet, since the inception of the tournament in 1991, only the three North American teams – the United States, Mexico and Canada – have won it.
Will this be the year a non-North American team claims the cup, or will it find its way into a North American trophy case for the 10th time?
“Historically, North American teams do very well in the tournament, but Central American teams have pretty successful results, as well,” said Benjamin Spencer, manager of media relations for CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football).
“Through the first two games of the tournament, you can see that the teams are very equal.”
In the nine previous Gold Cup tournaments, Central American countries have made the finals on three occasions, with each losing to the United States. La Sele, as the Costa Rican team is known, made their lone appearance in the finals in 2002, when they were beaten by the U.S. by a score of 2-0.
As of today, in group play Central American teams hold a record of three wins and five losses. El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras have recorded wins.
Costa Rica, off to a near-flawless start to 2009, entered as a favorite to win the Gold Cup. The Ticos have won four of five World Cup qualifying matches, and they are currently in first place in the CONCACAF, ahead of the U.S. and Mexico.
Rebounding From An Upset
In the biggest upset in the first round of the Gold Cup, Costa Rica was stunned by El Salvador last Friday night (July 3), when Osael Romero scored his second goal in the 86th minute to give the Salvadorians a 2-1 win.
The Ticos have since bounced back.
On Tuesday night, Costa Rica improved its chances of advancing to the second round with a 1-0 win over Jamaica at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, in the U.S. Midfielder Celsio Borges scored on a sliding left-footed volley in the 64th minute to give the Ticos their first win in the Gold Cup.
Although Costa Rica was able to hold on for the win, through the first two games of the tournament the Ticos seemed to have lacked the same chemistry that had led them to a successful start this year.
“I would be happy if we had been more convincing,” said Costa Rica coach Ricardo Kenton after the game on Wednesday. “The important thing is that we are improving. I hope to God that, little by little, we keep improving and make the finals.”
Costa Rica, outplayed during much of the first half, was aided by the expulsion of Jamaican player Rudolph Austin, who was shown a red card for a kick to the head of Borges in the 35th minute. After the ejection, Costa Rica improved their attack and, by way of a precise curling cross from substitute Pablo Herrera, Borges was able to tally the lone goal of the match in the 64th minute.
Costa Rica will play its third and final game of the first round of the tournament today at 7 p.m. EST (5 p.m. local) against Canada at Florida International University Stadium in Miami. Canada is in first place in Group A, with wins in its first two games.
The 12 teams are divided into three, four-team groups. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals. The last two spots in the quarterfinals are filled by the top two third-place teams in group play.
Gold Cup Champions
1991 – United States 2002 – United States
1993 – Mexico 2003 – Mexico
1996 – Mexico 2005 – United States
1998 – Mexico 2007 – United States
2000 – Canada
Central American teams in the Gold Cup
Costa Rica Panama